EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest Post by Ron Dawson
To see Part 1 in this series, go to : http://photofocus.com/2009/11/16/primer-for-still-to-video-shooters-part-1/
To see Part 2 in this series, go to : http://photofocus.com/2009/11/17/primer-for-still-to-video-shooters-part-2/
In parts I and II of this series, we covered framing and image capture. In this part, I’ll offer a few tips on lighting and audio. Note: this is not meant to be an exhaustive discourse on how to light for a set. You may have heard about three-point lighting. This will not get into that. These are some helpful tips and reminders for those of you looking to do some down and dirty video interviews.
• Indoors—when filming indoors, if you are not using a professional lighting set-up, try to pick a location that is bright, but does not have a harsh, overhead light. Overhead light will cause pockets of shadows in the subject’s eyes, under the chin, nose, etc. Avoid fluorescent lights whenever possible. Also, beware of backlighting.
• Outdoors—DO NOT have the subject in direct sunlight. Again, this can cause shadows or “hot” spots on the face. Look for an area where the light is more even. If it’s not too dark, a shaded area can work. Use reflectors if you them available and have an assistant to help.
• White Balance—most consumer camcorders have auto white balance. This affects how the camera looks at the color white. If the camera is not properly white balanced, everything may look blue or orange (depending on your location). Your camera may also have pre-set white balance settings for indoors and outdoors. Read the camera instructions to learn how to properly set white balance. If you look on the view screen and everything appears blue or orange, you know that your white balance is off.
Every videographer worth his weight in salt knows that audio is just as important, if not more so, than the visuals. Poor visuals (e.g. shaky camera work, poor white balance, etc,) can often be fixed in the editing room with creative filters, b-roll, etc. However, there is very little that can be done to fix poor audio. If at all possible, use a microphone connected to the camera to get clear, crisp sound. If that’s not possible, keep these guidelines in mind:
• Use a microphone—if at all possible, use a wireless lavaliere microphone on the subject. Run the lav wire underneath the shirt or blouse so it’s concealed. Nothing screams amateur as much as a long ol’ ugly lavaliere wire running down the front of a person’s shirt. If you’re a male putting a mic on a female, be a gentleman and turn around as she works to get the wire up her blouse or shirt.
• Monitoring and syncing sound—get a pair of headphones to plug into your camcorder and monitor your sound. Even if you’re using a camcorder that shows audio levels, it’s always a good idea to monitor your sound while recording. If you don’t, you could be getting static and not know it until it’s too late. Audio levels don’t distinguish between good audio and bad. If you’re shooting with a video DSLR, you won’t be able to monitor sound from the camera, so I recommend either a) recording simultaneously to a traditional camcorder and monitor sound from there, or b) better yet, record to a digital recorder like a Zoom H4N (a favorite among my peers). Use a slate or clap your hand in front of the subject’s face so you can sync the two media sources in editing. Just match the sound of the clap to the visuals of the hand or clap board striking. Just like they do it on a real film set. It’ll make you feel very official. :-)
• Indoors—be mindful of room noises. Make sure the heater and air conditioner are off. If you are in or near the kitchen, make sure the refrigerator is temporarily turned off so as not to pick up humming. The same goes for computers or any other household or office appliance that hums.
• Room Tone—once you have conducted the interview, record the room for about sixty seconds with no one talking. This is called room tone, and can be used during editing to help even out sound when cutting to different shots. Before recording room tone, have someone say “room tone” in front of the camera to mark the spot. I should note that room tone is a “nice to have.” I can honestly say that in the seven years I’ve been in business, I’ve never taken the time to grab room tone.
• Outdoors—Try to stay as far away from traffic as possible, especially if you won’t be using a microphone. Most consumer video camcorders do not have wind guards, so if it’s a windy day, try to avoid interviewing outside. If you must, try to find an area where the wind will be blocked. I actually try to avoid filming interviews outdoors if I can help it. Even if the scenery is amazingly picturesque, it won’t do you any good if you have to stop every two minutes because of airplanes flying over, dogs barking in a park, or traffic whizzing by. Remember, when audio is key, good audio should trump beautiful scenery.